Voice of the fan: Sizing up the Packers

In 1994, the unthinkable was about to happen. Brett Favre was about to be benched. The coaching staff was divided as to who should be the starting QB for the Packers. Some preferred Favre, while others leaned towards Mark Brunell. Favre realized that he needed to take his game up a notch. He felt the competition from Brunell and he faced it.<p>

Favre went from a QB that threw touchdowns to interceptions at a 1-1 ratio, to one that improved that to almost a 3-1 ratio over the next 3 years. Competition made Favre what he is today. The Packers hope that same formula will work on their 2003 roster.

The QB position is a good case in point. After Favre, the Packers have Doug Pederson, Craig Nall, Akili Smith and Eric Crouch all competing for backup jobs. The Packers are trying to develop the eventual successor to Favre, and hopefully he is among this group. Pederson is a short term insurance policy. The others all have a chance to take their game up to another level. All have had success in the past. Nall was a starter at LSU for a short time before transferring to Northwestern (La.) State. Steve Spurrier once offered Nall a scholarship on the spot after a workout. Smith was the 3rd overall pick in the NFL draft a few years ago after a monster season at Oregon. Crouch won the Heisman trophy at Nebraska. The sky is the limit for these young QBs. They get to learn an offense that is QB friendly. They also can watch and learn from one of the very best ever...Favre. The lesson he learned in 1994 might be one of the best messages he could deliver to the young guns.

The situation at HB and FB is very similar. Ahman Green is back as the starting HB. He is one of the NFL's very best. The competition for the backup jobs will be very interesting. 2nd year backs Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher both had success their rookie years. They will be joined by Lamar Smith, who is a veteran that knows how to get the tough yards and has a solid resume. At FB, William Henderson returns after another fine campaign. Henderson is getting a liitle long in the tooth, especially with the bruising style that he plays. The Packers decided to bring in Nick Luchey to backup Henderson. Luchey will push Henderson, plus possibly help out as an extra blocker in short yardage situations.

The big competition at WR will be for the starting job opposite Donald Driver. Robert Ferguson and Javon Walker both took their game up a level over the course of the 2002 season. The physical attributes that both bring to the table excites the coaching staff. Karsten Bailey continues to be consistent and looks to be the #4 WR. The #5 spot is up for grabs. The job will probably go to the WR that also returns kicks effectively. The candidates include DeAndrew Rubin, Carl Ford and a host of others. The TE position is manned by Pro Bowl TE Bubba Franks as the starter. David Martin has elevated his game during the minicamps and looks to be the key backup. Tyrone Davis is once again overweight and his days appear numbered. Don't be surprised to see another TE added before or during training camp.

The OL will have some great contests as well as the final roster is being put together. The interior of the line returns starter's LG Mike Wahle, C Mike Flanagan and RG Marco Rivera. The backup postions will be fought for fast and furiously. The candidates are the venerable Frank Winters, Bill Ferrario, David Brandt and Grey Ruegamer. The OT position is the one that will be looked at closely. Both Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton are trying to come back from very serious injuries. The coaching staff feels that both will be ready for the 2003 season, but there still is doubt. The players trying to be key backups include Kevin Barry, Jerry Wisne, Marcus Spriggs, Reggie Coleman and rookie Brennan Curtin. Look for the Packers to add another veteran OT, especially if the rehabilitation of either Tauscher or Clifton suffers a setback.

On the defensive side of the ball, there will be great competition as well. The DL is the best example of this. The Packers will probably start Joe Johnson and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila at DE. The DT starting positions will be manned by Cletidus Hunt and the soon to be resigned Gilbert Brown. The battle for backup jobs will be very interesting. The list includes Chukie Nwokorie, Jamal Reynolds, Aaron Kampman, Steve Warren, Rod Walker and rookie's Kenny Peterson and James Lee. The earth will be shaking at training camp as this group will fight for jobs.

The LB postion is one that still is a work in progress. The Packers first jettisoned both Hardy Nickerson and Nate Wayne. The Packers then matched an offer sheet from the Detroit Lions to retain Nail Diggs. They added Hannibal Navies through free agency. They then drafted Nick Barnett, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Steve Josiu. They also have the underachieving Torrance Marshall who recently showed vast improvement at the minicamps. They also retained Paris Lenon. A couple of questions remain. The team is still not sure what postions that the starting trio will play. That will be determined in training camp. The Packers are also reportedly interested in MLB Randall Godfrey. Godfrey will probably choose to play with one of three teams...the Packers...the Jaguars...or the Seahawks.

The competition at DB is also going to be fun to watch. The starters at CB are set with Mike McKenzie and Al Harris. Darren Sharper is a lock at one S position, while Marques Anderson and Antuan Edwards will battle it out for the other job. The contest for the backup jobs will include Bryant Westbrook, Bhawoh Jue, Jacoby Sheperd and rookie Chris Johnson.

The K position even has a little competition this year as the Packers recently signed Owen Pochman to compete against Ryan Longwell for the kickoff duties specifically. Field position is the name of the game, and the Packers are desperately trying to improve that aspect of the team. The return jobs are up in the air as was mentioned earlier. The Packers have signed free agents, drafted candidates, and signed specialists from both the AFL and NFLE to join in the battle. All backup jobs will be partly determined on how well a player does on special teams.

The 2003 roster still has a long way to go before it is finalized. The great competition at so many positions will hopefully enhance the quality of those who do make the team. The Packers of 2002 learned a great lesson. Injuries are part of the NFL, and you have to have superior depth to to overcome the loss of key players. This is very difficult in the NFL because of the salary cap. Mike Sherman is doing what he can to make sure that the 2003 Packers are deeper. Time will tell, but the competition can only increase that possibility.


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